The Hit King Sits On The Strip

Jeff · December 16, 2005 at 9:42 am · Filed Under General baseball, Off-topic ranting 

Hunter S. Thompson is dead, and I am in Las Vegas. This is equal parts appropriate and absurd, since I loathe excess and am embarassed by spectacle. But now that Hunter has passed, somebody has to bear witness.

People always focus on the drugs in Fear and Loathing, but the underlying strength of the book — and why non-drug-users have been devouring it for decades — is the sense of strangeness and isolation it conveys. Vegas just happens to be the perfect setting in which to portray those twin qualities. It’s that first quality I think of when I see two storm troopers and a guy in a Darth Vader costume flanking Billy Dee Williams.

We’re at the Forum Shops, a kind of upscale mall, where a throng has gathered to purchase 30 seconds of Billy Dee’s time and a keepsake picture. My friends, Star Wars fans to a man, are all anxious to pony up the $10 for a photo with Lando Calrissian. They try to pressure me into buying one, too. Sure, I say, if he’ll pose with a Colt .45 can and sign it “To Jeff, Who Works Every Time.” But that’s not happening.

People love Billy Dee. He’s smiling, shaking hands, hugging babies, posing with beautiful ladies, their lovely daughters and their jealous husbands. He’s gracious to fanboys, suave with the females and kind to everyone. The line reaches 50 people while I’m there, and never dips below 20 deep. While my friends wait for their photo, I stroll on, aiming to find a gift for The Lovely Wife.

I stroll past thirty yards of items I can’t afford and don’t want. Then I see him.

It’s Pete Rose, signing autographs for money in front of a memorabilia shop.

Rose, resplendent in a University of Miami sweatsuit and ballcap, doesn’t seem to be doing much. He checks his watch, makes some small talk with the security guards, then sneaks another peek down at his wrist. There are three teenage girls wearing Reds jerseys that have been paid to wave advertising placards. They appear to be the closest he’s going to come to an adoring public.

In person, Pete Rose looks much like he does on television — you get the feeling that he’s waiting for someone to challenge him. He seems defiant and yet slightly bewildered, like a bull that doesn’t yet realize it has been castrated. In a way, Pete’s the perfect man for Vegas, and not just because of the obvious. In a town built for oddness and isolation, he appears one of the oddest and most isolated men around.

How much for a picture, I ask one of the young ladies. Free, she tells me. Free!

Imagine the possibilities: I could ask him about his fingerprints on those Dowd Report betting slips, the corked bat or the hair plugs. I could solicit advice on who to bet on in college bowl games. I could create a Christmas card picture by posing next to Pete Rose in an awkward B-Boy Stance. This could engender the Best Blog Post of All Time.

I begin walking up to Pete, but she stops me. The autographs and ensuing picture with Pete become free, I am informed, only after one buys an item from off the blue table inside to be signed by Charlie Hustle.

Naturally, I peek my head into the store, where I ask the indelicate but honest question: What’s the cheapest thing on the blue table? “The pictures are $79.95,” says a clerk. “It goes up from there.”

I stroll in the direction of my friends, sparing an occasional look backward at Rose. Every few minutes, someone walks up to shake his hand. Usually, Pete tries to direct them inside to the merch table, and usually, the guy smiles and shakes his head.

Meanwhile, Billy Dee Williams keeps smiling, his customers keep smiling back and strolling away from him headed for the slots. To get there, they’ll have to walk right past baseball’s hit king.

And that’s exactly what they’ll do.


31 Responses to “The Hit King Sits On The Strip”

  1. Chris Miller on December 16th, 2005 9:53 am

    A Thompson quote! Great! I smelled a little gonzo influence in your posts Jeff, I knew it! And, Hunter hated baseball!

  2. Chris Miller on December 16th, 2005 9:54 am

    I meant Hunter S. Thompson reference.

  3. njenkin on December 16th, 2005 9:54 am

    Friends recently returned from Vegas and recounted the same story.

    Suffice to say I never was nor ever will be a Pete Rose fan. And I am old enough to have watched his entire career.

    I don’t relish in his misery. But I ain’t shedding any tears over it either.

    I will refrain from further comment to avoid being deleted.

  4. Jeff in Fremont on December 16th, 2005 10:01 am

    As your attorney, I advise you to watch out for the bats.

  5. Jim Thomsen on December 16th, 2005 10:14 am

    Somewhere nearby, Rafael Palmeiro and Benicio Del Toro stand in Seventies leisure suits and sunglasses, pissing into the fake potted plants in the food court.

  6. Jimmie the Geek on December 16th, 2005 10:18 am

    That’s a great story, one I’ll forward to my friend Al. Al is a die-hard Big Red Machine fan, and a huge Rose apologist^H^H^Hsupporter. I say Shoeless Joe gets in the Hall before The Hit King. :rolleyes:


  7. Brian Rust on December 16th, 2005 10:19 am

    Jim, those aren’t fake potted plants. They’re just absurdly . . . developed.

  8. Evan on December 16th, 2005 10:19 am

    I could never stand to read Thompson, though I appreciated the movie version of Fear and Loathing if only because it got Tim Thomerson some work.

  9. Jim Thomsen on December 16th, 2005 10:24 am

    I’m no Thompson fan, either (he gave a lecture at Western when I was at school there in 1985, and it was the most incoherent ramble I ever heard … twenty minutes of drug-induced nothingness, for which he pocketed $10,000).

    But I am a Jeff Shaw fan, and hope somebody to read an autographed first-edition copy of his book, “Where the Bellingham Roams.”

  10. chris w on December 16th, 2005 10:44 am

    I was witness to the spectacle of Pete Rose in the Caeser’s Palace memorabilia shop about a month ago. I actually took a picture of him sitting there. Surreal, yes, but also trashy.

  11. Jim Thomsen on December 16th, 2005 10:44 am

    Meanwhile, outside Remo Gaggi’s mob-front Italian grocery store in Kansas City, Doug Mientkiewicz bumped awkwardly into new Royals teammate Mark Grudzielanek, spilling their Christmas-gift-for-the-kids Scrabble boards and spontaneously spelling each other’s names.

  12. Xteve X on December 16th, 2005 10:59 am

    I just got back from Vegas last Sunday, where I dropped a whole passel of money on 3 team parleys and Supersonics games. Vegas remains a surreal spectacle, a combination of complete & total decadence next to some of the shabbiest, saddest scenes imaginable.

    RIP Hunter.

  13. Russ on December 16th, 2005 10:59 am

    Jim, I literally spit water onto my keyboard! Luckily I work for a company that builds ruggedized laptops so my keyboard is water proof.

    I grew up watching Pete play baseball. While I find it sad he has to hock himself to pay the rent, I do not feel sorry for him. I’ve got no problem with guys who sell autographs, pictures, etc. However when the commercialism is so blatent it is distasteful. I guess I also don’t see the appeal of getting an autographed picture or ball from somebody who so blatently broke all the rules. I’m not sure that I’d could display it or feel good about having it, despite his greatness as a player.

    It comes down to the person. We’ve had similar conversations recently about the quality of person and to me it does make a difference. I can respect the accomplishment of Pete Rose but I can’t get past who he is and what he did. This doesn’t come down to compassion or forgivness but rather it is more of how I think of my character and what I find valuable and authentic.

  14. Jim Thomsen on December 16th, 2005 11:24 am

    Here’s how I envision the final days of “The Hit King.”

    “But at night you can’t see the desert that surrounds Las Vegas, and it’s in the desert that a lot of the city’s problems are solved. There are a lot of holes in the desert … but the thing is, you’ve got to have the hole already dug by the time you show up with a package in the trunk, or you could spend the next 30 or 45 minutes digging. And who knows who else might come along in that time? Next thing you know, you’ve got to dig a few more holes. You could be there all fuckin’ night.”

    “Go back and see The Hit King. Tell him he’s got to run things a little more quiet … or maybe he should quit.”

    “The bosses had gotten tired of Petey.”

  15. Rich on December 16th, 2005 11:36 am

    I love it when people who have never stepped foot off the Strip talk down about Vegas.
    I’ve been all over the world, 10 times over, and have seen much worse and much more excess. Living in Vegas is great, the city is nice, for the most part clean, and growing rapidly.

  16. Deanna on December 16th, 2005 11:38 am

    I grew up watching Pete Rose too, but there’s no way in heck I’d pay to get his signature.

    re #11 — my first thought was, “The Royals must *really* hate their announcers, scoreboard operators, and beat writers.”

    On the other hand, if they have a “spelling bee” feature during games like the Mariners do, it’s probably a lot more exciting than trying to get fans to spell “Rizzs”, “Hasegawa”, or “Yuniesky”.

  17. Jim Thomsen on December 16th, 2005 11:43 am

    Deanna, that’s why the Royals also signed Scott Elarton and Paul Bako … as their way of telling the crew in the booth: “Um, sorry about that.”

  18. Chris Miller on December 16th, 2005 11:59 am

    Ugggggh, poooor KC fans. Who’d ever guessed they’d be the winners in the Scott Elarton sweepstakes. Not me. Ok, no more sarcasm. I think they’ve made some kind of pact w/ other AL Central teams to make sure they get some free wins every year.

  19. Jim Thomsen on December 16th, 2005 12:04 pm

    Actually, if not for that little incidental “lifetime ban” technicality, Pete Rose would fit perfectly into the Royals’ “plan” this year. We all know “The Hit King” can hit, right. And who can run like “Charlie Hustle”? And he can throw well … well, throw a game, anyway.

    Next predicted Royals free-agent signing under the team’s well-thought-out strategy: Darren Dreifort.

  20. InSp0 on December 16th, 2005 12:05 pm

    you forgot all about Oscar Zeta Acosta.

  21. Ralph Malph on December 16th, 2005 12:14 pm

    Well, the Royals are the team of Jamie Quirk and Dan Quisenberry.

  22. Deanna on December 16th, 2005 12:27 pm

    Kansasmari Damacity!

    Royal Rainbow!

    (I’m going to hell for that one, I’m sure.)

  23. msb on December 16th, 2005 12:38 pm

    man, I miss Quiz.

  24. mark from Oly. wa. on December 16th, 2005 1:25 pm

    My mom got the Rose book signed and a jersey! He actually signed it “Charlie Hustle”, which is something he never does. There is also a whole roll of film of my mom and The Hit King chit-chatting.

    Yup, I have quite the baseball collection going. The jersey is now on the wall between my Ryan Franklin and Jeff Crillio autographed balls.

    it’s fannn-tastic.

  25. Roger on December 16th, 2005 2:02 pm

    The jersey is now on the wall between my Ryan Franklin and Jeff Crillio autographed balls.

    Just to clarify–baseballs, right?

  26. Pat K on December 16th, 2005 2:11 pm

    Slightly off topic, but speaking of legendary baseball players who are perhaps even more legendary in their own minds, did you see that Alex has decided has decided to sit out the WBC? Alex has realized it would be “insulting” for a country not to have his services, and therefore, rather than put the US or the Dominican Republic through such anquish, Alex has decided he should remain above the whole affair. I guess when you are a baseball god, you really shouldn’t demean yourself by taking sides in the worldly affairs of mere mortals…

  27. DriveByBlogger on December 16th, 2005 2:22 pm

    Re: Pay-Rod… What a Tool.

  28. Matt on December 16th, 2005 4:07 pm

    Naananana na na naanaanananaa

    Woo Kansasmari Damashi! I love it!

  29. msb on December 16th, 2005 5:05 pm

    #25– I can’t decide if this is Alex just trying to please everyone as usual, or if he is trying to get out of playing without ticking anyone off. The Dominicans think he should play for the US, if he won;t play for them…

  30. Jim Thomsen on December 16th, 2005 5:28 pm

    Wasn’t A-Rod born in Miami? If so, end of story.

  31. Tim O on December 17th, 2005 10:44 am

    I doubt Italy (wasn’t Piazza born in Philly) or the Netherlands would be fielding a team if it was simply a matter of birthplace. International competitions including the Olympics have a long history of allowing non-native sons to represent countries other than birthplace or current citizenship. I do think A-Rod is being rather pathetic about not playing because he doesn’t want to cause bad feelings on either side, but at least it is a legitimate choice. I notice where Cuban-born Livan Hernandez wants to pitch for Puerto Rico where he has an off-season home.